More PFAS Found in Maryland Water and Seafood  

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For Immediate Release:  Monday, November 16, 2020
Contact:  Tim Whitehouse (202) 265-7337; Kirsten Stade

More PFAS Found in Maryland Water and Seafood

Maryland Must Set Health Standards for Toxic “Forever Chemical”


Silver Spring, MD New testing conducted on seafood in Saint Mary’s County, Maryland and drinking water in Montgomery County reveals high levels of PFAS chemicals, according to results released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  The chemicals damage the immune system and may make consumers more vulnerable to COVID-19 and/or aggravate COVID afflictions. 

PFAS refers to per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, more than 9,000 varieties of human-made chemicals used in the manufacture of consumer goods including cookware, flame retardants, waterproofing, furniture and take-out containers. These chemicals do not break down in the environment and are ubiquitous in the food chain, and they are associated with birth defects, damage to the liver and kidneys, and cancer risk. 

PEER tested for 36 different PFAS in striped bass caught in Cornfield Harbor in the Potomac River, and oyster and crab from St. Inigoes Creek in Saint Mary’s County. The striped bass had 23,100 parts per trillion (ppt) of nine different PFAS, the crab meat had 6,650 ppt of eight PFAS, and the oyster meat had 2,070 ppt of five PFAS. 

“These levels of PFAS in our seafood should be a red flag to Maryland,” said Tim Whitehouse, Executive Director of PEER.  People deserve to know what toxins are in their food.” 

The seafood was taken from waters that are close to the Webster Outlying Field of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station where the chemicals are believed to have been used in firefighting exercises over many years. “A seafood platter containing oysters, crab, and rockfish with these levels of toxins is a danger to public health, especially women who may be pregnant or breastfeeding, said Pat Elder, an environmental activist from St. Mary’s City, MD. 

PEER also tested drinking water for 36 PFAS at homes in three locations in Montgomery County: two in Bethesda and one in Poolesville.  The first Bethesda site had 26.94 ppt of ten PFAS, while the second Bethesda site had 48.35 ppt of 11 PFAS. The Poolesville site had 15.4 ppt of seven different PFAS. The levels detected at the two homes in Bethesda were higher than the levels found by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), which tested drinking water for 18 PFAS at its Potomac and Patuxent Filtration Plants. 

“PFAS should not be in our seafood or our drinking water,” said Whitehouse, noting that unlike a growing number of states, Maryland does not regulate PFAS in drinking water and does not have health advisories for PFAS in food. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers only voluntary guidance. “As it stands now, Marylanders have little legal protection against harmful exposure to these chemicals through what they eat and drink.” 

The EPA non-binding lifetime health advisory for PFOA and PFOS – two of the older PFAS – in drinking water is 70 ppt. On February 14, 2019, EPA issued a PFAS Action Plan promising Congress and citizens that it would regulate PFOA and PFAS in drinking water within a year. However, on March 10, 2020, bowing to industry pressure, EPA issued a notice that delays regulation up to another five years.  

Studies indicate even EPA’s voluntary exposure limits for PFOA and PFOS are too high. A 2013 study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health suggests water concentrations of PFOA should be no higher than 1 part per trillion. Dr. Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, says drinking water limits for PFOA should be 0.1 parts per trillion.  All three samples of tap water in Montgomery Country far exceed these levels.  

In the absence of action by EPA, Maryland needs to start developing health-based standards for PFAS chemicals in water and food,” added Whitehouse. “As in other states, Maryland should explore ways to hold corporations accountable so that its citizens are not left footing the bill for cleanup.


View the Drinking Water Test Results

View Striped Bass, Oyster, and Crab Results 

See previous testing results from St. Mary’s River Watershed Association

See a list of filters that take out PFAS in drinking water

Read the 2013 study by Dr. Philippe Grandjean

Examine statement from Dr. Linda Birnbaum

Look at other states’ PFAS standards

See EPA’s anemic PFAS Response

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